Photo: Citroën Racing

‘Pechito’ López extends lead after two strong drives in France

José María López leaves France, his team’s home track, with a 12 point lead in the drivers’ standings after two great drives at the Circuit Paul Ricard, driving from last position to fourth in race one, and to victory in race two.

The Citroën Total WTCC driver had originally qualified in second position on Saturday behind team-mate Sébastien Loeb, but both drivers were demoted to the back of the grid after the fuel cut-off valve failed the scrutineers checks.

Their team-mate Yvan Muller therefore inherited pole, and capitalised on it in race one to take a comfortable win, 12 seconds ahead of Sébastien Loeb, who put on a charge to go from 17th to second. Yvan Muller lost out at the start of race two however, when he was forced to take avoiding action to miss a spinning Gianni Morbidelli, whose Chevrolet had been hit by the identical Cruze of Tom Chilton, which saw López take over as the Citroën driver on point, and worked his way through to the lead and to his second victory of the season.

“I would say after yesterday it wasn’t looking great,” said López to TouringCarTimes.

“I’d say this weekend I’ve been slightly slower, it’s very close, but I’d say Seb did the best job this weekend, but just in the last race I felt a little bit more comfortable with the car, which allowed me to push a little bit more, and I had a little bit of luck with a good start.

“It was a very nice race, it was a good weekend. Yesterday we were sent to the back of the grid, but we knew it was possible to score points, but you’d never think you could start from last and finish first, I mean sometimes even when you start from tenth it’s difficult, so I’m quite happy,” he said.

López said that since expectations were a little lower when starting from the back of the grid, it was slightly less nerve-wracking than his pole position start last weekend in Morocco.

“When you start from the front row you are more nervous as you have a little bit more pressure,” he said. “We were a little bit more relaxed, we took some risks on the set-up because we had to, and I think the car balance was great, and after two safety cars I was able to attack Tiago (Monteiro) and build a little gap to Yvan (Muller), and I think he was a little bit hurt from the battle in the race and he couldn’t really follow me.”

In race one, López drove to fourth position, running out of time to catch the Honda of Gabriele Tarquini. López and Loeb had slight contact at the end of the straight at the start of the second lap, and from then on, it was López’s turn to follow Loeb as the rally star worked his way forward.

“After the first race I was happy as I’d finished the race and scored points, but Seb and Yvan had better pace than me,” he said. “The first race was OK, I was in front of Seb and then fought with him in the first corner and lost my front and went wide and lost three of four positions, and after that I couldn’t really come back.”

López now leads the drivers’ standings on 85 points, with Sébastien Loeb 12 adrift on 73. Yvan Muller scored the most points of the Citroën drivers this weekend and moves up to third after his troubled start in Morocco, while Gabriele Tarquini leaps to joint-fourth overall for Honda despite not even taking part in Marrakech.

The next round of the Championship is at the Hungaroring in Budapest on May 4th.

FIA World Touring Car Championship Driver Standings after France